Distracted drivers need to get serious

From the Walla Walla Union-Bulletin

Distracted driving isn’t a joke – yet that’s how drivers seem to treat it.

Look around when you are on the street, either as a driver, passenger or pedestrian. Smartphones are in use by myriad drivers.

This despite the state Legislature, year after year, making distracted-driving laws tougher. Lawmakers this year approved new traffic laws aimed at cutting down on drivers who use their smartphones or do other things that lead to dangerous situations.

Is it working? That’s hard to say.

The Washington State Patrol said in July it would give warnings to cellphone scofflaws for the first six months. So far, troopers have stopped and issued warnings to almost 4,800 motorists for driving under the influence of electronic devices.

In January, it gets real. Troopers will start issuing tickets that will cost $136 for the first offense and $234 for each subsequent offense of typing, texting, watching a video or doing almost anything that requires more than one finger movement on a cellphone, smartphone or other electronic device.

Drivers need to get serious too, and not just because they could be fined. The fact is distracted driving is incredibly dangerous. Traffic deaths were up 20 percent in 2015 compared to 2014. Distracted driving seems to be the root of the problem.

The previous law prohibited only texting or holding a phone to the ear while driving. The current law prohibits drivers from holding an electronic device while driving. In addition, drivers can’t hold an electronic device while waiting for a light to change.

Many motorists have become accustomed to taking a peek at their phones at the light. No more.

Frankly, putting a ban in place for stops at traffic lights is welcome. The practice of looking at a phone or computer while stopped is annoying for other drivers. It causes traffic to back up and is inconsiderate.

Still, the most important part of the new law is that it mandates drivers focus on the road. The threat of a $136 ticket should be an incentive for motorists who continue to engage in distracted driving to knock it off.